As far as 4x games go, Sorcerer King is unique: where most games in the genre see the player vying for total control with other players, Sorcerer King takes place after an evil warmonger has conquered the world and all but destroyed civilization. The player is tasked instead with rebuilding their broken kingdom and preventing the King from casting an ominous spell called “The Spell of Unmaking” — a sorcery which, if successful, would turn all life force into magical power, effectively ending the world completely.
Initially, Sorcerer King seems very similar to a game like Civilization or other 4x games. The player begins with a single city, and can then build improvements and troops in that city. The game deviates heavily almost immediately, though, granting the player a hero and a few troops to explore the world and gain power and resources. To add a layer of tension, a “doomsday counter” is present under the resource display — if the meter fills completely, it’s an instant game over. It’s here where Sorcerer King’s uniqueness becomes apparent: it’s darkly funny, it’s difficult, and it’s incredibly deep. Almost everything can gain levels: cities, individual troops, and even your sovereign kingdom as a whole can increase in power and unlock abilities like increased food generation based on the level of the Doomsday Counter, or more spell casts in battle.
Speaking of spells, there are a ton of them — several dozen, at least. Capturing Life Crystals (by expanding your territory to encompass them and then building on them) grants the Magic resource, which the player can funnel into one of three sub-resources: Skill, which is used to gain Sovereign Levels; Lore, which is used to learn magic spells; and Mana, which is used for casting spells, immediately training new troops, or finishing construction on city improvements. The player can learn everything from teleportation to deforestation to mountain flattening. Seriously: there are so many spells. It’s possible to forsake everything in lieu of making your hero’s army incredibly powerful, cloaking them in flames and teleporting them around the battlefield to deal with threats, while running the risk of leaving your cities defenseless and inefficiently producing troops and improvements.
Going to war with the King is reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic: upon entering combat, the player is presented with a grid, with each unit having a set movement amount and attack range. Unlike HoMM, though, the army’s hero can move around and act like a normal unit. If the hero dies, they’re sent back to the capital city for several turns, after which they respawn. The player can also cast “sovereign spells” — magic which is limited initially to a single cast per battle, but can be upgraded through sovereign levels. Initially, I assumed the combat would be standard fare, but there is a lot of cleverly hidden depth in choosing when to spend your kingdom’s mana to cast a sovereign spell, or when to approach the battle normally with the units at your disposal.
Sorcerer King is a firm believer in micro-management: each individual unit can be equipped with weapons, armor, and accessories, all of which can be crafted using materials gained through exploration and combat. It’s never overwhelming, though, because the game takes cues from successful 4x games like Civilization — the “end turn” button is replaced with various actions the player has left to do before the turn ends, meaning the player can focus more on the kingdom and game at large than worrying whether or not there are enemies near one of their cities. It’s important to be careful though, because even on the easier difficulties, apathy and contentedness can spell disaster; paying attention to the field and what is doing what is a key aspect, as in most 4x games.
Sorcerer King has a sense of humor which I wasn’t on board with initially — it’s cheeky to a fault, and tries very hard to be clever (and admittedly succeeding a great deal of the time). It quickly grew on me, though. At one point, I made a deal with a knife merchant who was set to be hanged the following day for murder. He admitted that he was probably guilty — even going so far as to confess that he often wakes up with bloody clothing and no memory of going to sleep — but promised that if I got him out of it, that he’d give me a great deal on knives. I locked him up anyway, and stole the knives.
The developer, Stardock, is avoiding the pitfalls so common to other Early Access games. Where most games on the service present with bare-bones features and a vague promise of a fleshed-out vision, Sorcerer King is already a fully-formed game, with a ton of smaller improvements on the horizon, weekly developer streams, and regular hotfixes every few weeks. The most recent build added the Priest sovereign class, and a future update seems to be hinting at something called “The Tinker” sovereign class, so I’m incredibly interested in what comes next. Stardock is also planning to have a single player campaign available at launch, so that’s certainly something to look for as well. Sorcerer King is on early access now for $39.99 (let’s be real though, $40), and unlike most Early Access games at that price point, it’s absolutely worth it.